Steve Manley, Universal Office Products MD and President of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce
Universal MD and President of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce Steve Manley talks about kickboxing, dogs and diversification
What is it the company does?
In summary, we help companies save money on their office supplies expenditure. We are an independent single source office supplies company supplying any size organisation throughout the UK.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
As joint MD, I have a hands-on approach to all aspects of the business, but I spend a substantial proportion of my time with the external Account Managers and Sales Manager. My biggest passion is spending time with both existing and new customers. The rest of my time is divided between all the other departments/teams within the business.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
My career actually started when I was at college and formed a stationery shop selling office supplies to fellow students. I guess this is where I first discovered that the best way to make money rather than just selling your time, which is limited, is to sell a product where you can make an instant profit. From my college experience, I applied to work in a local office supplies company, who were part of a multi-billion pound national organisation.
I quickly progressed from trainer telesales at the age of 18 to take over the Leeds operation as branch manager at the age of 23. Leeds was the poorest performing branch out of 14 and I had 20 people within the team, where the next youngest person to me was several years older, so that presented me with my first challenge. After three years, Leeds was the top performing branch in terms of sales, margin and net profit growth. I was then promoted to regional sales director where I had full profit and loss responsibility for £70m worth of business. After two years, I decided to leave and start up my own business as I still remembered my college days and I realised that my true desire was to work for myself.
Universal has enjoyed great success over the last 16 years and is something that I am proud to have created with my Business Partner, Mark Broadbent. We started in a back bedroom in Worrall, Sheffield with no customers and no hot leads, therefore it truly was a shock to the system when we first started.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
In my opinion, a great leader should lead from the front and set a positive example to the rest of the team. You need to be a good listener and realise that all members of your team are different. I also believe a great leader should be a great communicator.
What has been the biggest challenge in your current position?
Employing friends and family in a sales capacity. In sales, you have nowhere to hide and if you are not working hard or missing your numbers it only leads to one consequence and that’s never a good situation when you have employed friends and family.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I love Kickboxing and this is something I have done now for 12 years. It’s a great way to get fit, forget about work and my boxing partner for 12 years is one of the funniest people I have ever met, so we also have good fun at the same time.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I love animals and I always wanted to work in the police as a Dog Handler but I’m colour blind and at the time, that prohibited you from joining. I now work as a dog volunteer with an organisation which includes caring for their puppies and taking part in training drills and hosting certain dogs at home.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I hate to see any of our company vehicles dirty inside or out. It’s a representation of your business and they should look their best at all times.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
The office products market is changing, and we have already diversified dramatically over the last five years. We re-branded two years ago from Universal Office Products to just Universal as we now provide so much more. This trend will continue, and my vision is to be a true one-stop-shop for our customers. Amazon has become a one-stop-shop for so many households and we need to do something of relative similarity in our marketplace.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Work hard, work smart, don’t suffer fools or negative draining people, always take time to work on your own development, don’t lie and have fun!
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
I was extremely fortunate to have some great mentors in my early career who taught me so much, but none of them could really prepare or advise me on the highs and lows of running your own business.
I wish someone had told me that it would be extremely challenging and demanding, but don’t worry and lose sleep as the pleasure you will get from developing the team and customer base, makes starting your own company the best business decision you will ever make.
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